What MOCA Learned from a Week Spent Among Friends
NFTNYC was a highly-subjective experience. Each of us at MOCA traced vastly different paths through it. But if we’re to talk about what NFTNYC 2022 represented, what we found important, and how it might reveal the future for crypto art, then we must return to a single, overwhelming fact:
The Token Art event had gluten-free pizza.
Major kudos to Token Art. Because you don’t have gluten-free pizza at an event unless you care deeply about your attendees as individuals with individual digestive needs. It’s not something you do for strangers or for homogeneous crowds, but something you do for your friends, colleagues, and family.
Certainly, not every NFTNYC event made such thoughtful considerations, but it was something quite commonplace throughout crypto artistry’s many satellite gatherings. Monaverse’s panel at the Lightbox started our week with a similar energy. Later, Artnet assembled a lineup of speakers which included the literal father of NFTs, Kevin McCoy. SuperRare’s “Digital Identity” Exhibition opened in SoHo, drawing together a great brain-trust of crypto art royalty to commemorate and acknowledge each other. Did you make it to the RAREPEPE gallery and auction? Or to NFTSEA? A Creep was wed to a Weirdo, Crypto Argentina held their first ever American gallery opening, Coldie did Karaoke, and MOCA threw an epic dinner and party.
More than the nuances of individual events, however, we will remember moments, new relationships, long-awaited meetings.
Having gathered from across continents and cultures to be with each other, we who attended NFTNYC in June 2022 unwittingly revealed much about the current state of crypto art. Two things come to mind:
1) The crypto art space is familial in a way that is truly beautiful and unique.
2) Crypto art is splitting away from the greater NFT environment, further solidifying its own norms, subculture, and self-sustainability.
It was rare for us to find anyone who went to the ticketed NFTNYC conference. Many of the creators, collectors, and enthusiasts at crypto art events were perfectly happy admitting that they had no interest in the conference itself, or the kind of hyper-commercialism that many — rightly or wrongly — assumed was on display there.
Sans shilling, sans business cards, they opted instead to reunite with old friends, put names to faces, and see with their own two eyes what crypto art looked like when it had two legs, a common space, and a chance to pay you a compliment. Colborn Bell described his experience at the RAREPEPE gallery, for instance, as “Like having a Fourth of July bar-b-que at your family’s.” Indeed, many crypto art events were marked by hugs instead of handshakes. Many felt like big family reunions.
DADA’s wedding of a Creep to a Weirdo distilled that vibe. A celebratory occasion with the drinks, laughter, peacocking, and tacos to prove it, DADA’s event brought together an uncommon mix of industry veterans, Trash Art pioneers who had never before been to New York, artists of all sorts, writers, builders, and generally good folk to celebrate the weird, wild crypto art scene they had erected. There was an energy there which communicated: Finally, we are at home amongst our own kind.
The overall tone was celebratory, but it was also deeply supportive. One often overheard greetings like:
“Oh my god, I love your artwork.”
“Wow, it’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person!”
One knew immediately when they were in the presence of friends. Or when they weren’t. Most everyone probably found themselves at an event or two which felt odd, perhaps because a lot of these events featured people more interested in discussing the current state of NFTs than the original spirit of cryptocurrency or Crypto Art. Nothing necessarily dangerous or reductive, but just off. These events generally seemed to advertise themselves to crowds from across the NFT landscape, not just within the crypto art community.
For example, one panel discussion was predominated by a non-crypto-art-oriented audience even though the panel itself featured a litany of real crypto art heavy-hitters. And as such, the panel felt compelled to cater to multiple audiences. Interesting ideas and asides about AI, crypto art curation, or the place of a museum in a decentralized landscape, for instance, were thus left skeletal. Big ideas couldn’t be teased out into their fullest expressions because there was no single shared knowledge-base from which to springboard.
At some of these more commingled spaces, many must have expected us crypto art emissaries to have come equipped with new, fresh arguments about why crypto art is legitimate. At the crypto-art-centric events, however, such tired topics of conversation were rarely mentioned, if at all. Therein, we were safe from banal questions about how NFTs work, whether generative art is “real art,” or how artists were handling the cryptocurrency price crash.
In fact, there was little mention of price at all, neither of individual artworks nor of crypto at large.
That’s not only unique, but belies a massive power rebalance. Crypto art will likely never be more than a niche within NFT culture, but perhaps it is no longer necessary to reach out, at great personal effort, to the worlds outside our own. Crypto art is demonstrating not just an appetite but an ability to sustain itself: financially, intellectually, and creatively. Amidst a great bear market, crypto art showed an aptitude for celebration and togetherness that is rare and worth fighting for.
And it’s showing a stronger aptitude for survivability than many probably anticipated. Though the overall NFT market seems to be too hype-driven to remain sustainable in its current form — buoyed more by the caprices of the moment than any underlying valuation — crypto art offers a unique kind of evergreen cultural capital. Because if one is attracted to aesthetics of any kind, one will almost certainly find them represented within the crypto art gauntlet.
Within this bounty of artwork is an attractive kind of theatricality, one that recognizes itself, reflects, and evolves similarly to meme culture, with the same smirking showmanship. When crypto art boasts of community, it’s not referring to platitudinal Discord chats, but a holistic culture of remixing and cultural growth that all are encouraged to contribute to. There’s still so much untapped value in that proposition, and certainly enough for crypto art to continually justify its existence.
A better question is: Why wouldn’t crypto art be coalescing around itself? We are further developing our own language, and learning to vibrate on our own unique frequency. And that frequency is fun. Crypto art is deeply in awe of itself, and it’s self-supportive. OG collectors are enthusiastic about the art that exists here, not just for its future value but for the expression it emanates. Emerging artists are enthusiastic about the kinds of techniques — digital, robotic, generative — they’re able to indulge in, and the kinds of questions — about the internet, about the future, about AI — they’re able to ask.
While the greater NFT world remains in massive pain, liquidated of its influencers by the liquidation of cryptocurrencies at-large, their crumbling institutions built on now-transparent ponzinomics, crypto artists quite literally dance atop it all, welcoming another corrective market cycle.
It is our opinion that this segmenting of the crypto art space will only continue. Soon, we will have our own conferences, boisterous and specific affairs more like a screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show than a Ted Talk. We will continue to develop our language, ensuring that we all share the capacity to speak it. We will continue offering an antidote to everyone who grows tired of the constant shill-buy-shill cycle that characterizes the NFT experience for so many. They will be attracted here by sounds of cheering and loud music, by the beautiful artwork and bright lights and laughter, but they will stay for the gluten-free pizza, and for the overwhelming humanity.
How can we be so sure? Because we saw it with our own eyes. Again and again and again.